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Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonatas
No. 31 in A flat, Hob. XVI:49 (1767-70) [22:16]
No. 33 in C minor, Hob. XVI:20 (1771) [23:55]
No. 47 in B minor, Hob. XVI:46 (1774-76) [14:54]
No. 59 in E flat, Hob. XVI:49 (1789) [22:16]
Enrique Bagaría (piano)
rec. 14-16 July, 2015, Auditorio de Zaragoza, Sala Luis Galve, Spain

This very generously filled (over 80 minutes) disc presents the eminently heartfelt Haydn of the young Catalan pianist Enrique Bagaría. Performed on a modern instrument (Steinway), these are tasteful and very alive performances of four very contrasting sonatas. All repeats are observed, something that certainly adds to the playing time; it also gives us a sense of the expansiveness of these works. As one becomes immersed in these performances, one’s appreciation of Haydn’s achievement in this genre grows and grows. In the interview with Mònica Pagès that appears in the booklet, Bagaría even states that he put a lot of thought into the timing of the gaps between movements, and they certainly seem well judged. It is hard to imagine a finer recording, also: the piano is superbly caught in both CD and SACD stereo layers (the recording data supplied is incredibly detailed, from the Neumann and Schoeps microphones to which headphones were used, including “custom made headphone amplifier”). As a demonstration recording alone this disc has value.

The first sonata in the running order is the E flat of 1789, and the latest on the disc in terms of composition. The performance is intensely commendable for its perfect runs, its sense of drama (Bagaría is not above the occasional slowing for emphasis) and its impeccable style. The central Adagio cantabile is an incredibly interior statement, with flights of fantasy that sit perfectly with the ongoing trajectory; only the finale is a tad anonymous. On Warner, András Schiff is his usual personable and individual self (his way with the opening gesture is very different, suggesting a different edition). Even more searching in the Adagio e cantabile, Schiff holds the tension perfectly through the music’s silences, while his somewhat clockwork final Tempo di minuet is absolutely charming.

The C minor Sonata’s first movement could hardly be more different than its E flat counterpart. Bagaría locates the heart of sadness at the heart of the first movement; decorations are perfectly judged, and the crisp articulation of the descending scales is delightful. Perhaps a greater degree of dynamic contrast would be welcome: very few passages indeed duck below the mezzo-piano line. One of the few Haydn Sonatas cast in the minor (and one of two on this disc), this is a good performance. Certainly Pletnev (over on Virgin Classics, a twofer of Haydn Concertos and Sonatas on VBD5 61881-2) has his own very different way with this movement, finding layers of pathos unavailable to Bagaría (Pletnev’s acoustic, St Martin’s Church, Newbury, Berkshire, is rather too reverberant, unfortunately). The Andante con moto feels more of an Adagio but again has its clear moments of fantasy; interesting to contrast with Pletnev, as they almost sound like two different pieces at the opening, with Bagaría smooth, Pletnev laudably differentiated in his articulation and capturing the gentilité of this movement better. The finale gains its contrasts via Bagaría’s crisp articulation, and here the honours are more evenly spread between him and Pletnev.

Third up for Bagaría is the A flat major Sonata, with its very characterful, witty acciaccaturas. In the interview, Bagaría refers to the writing in this sonata as “rich, highly virtuosic,” and he certainly seems to revel in the music’s challenges. Textures are always hyper-clean, even when Haydn is at his most crowded. Bagaría’s Adagio is expansive but feels rather too much so, despite his preternatural attention to detail. The sprightly finale is lovely, although could hold that little bit more sunshine. For this sonata, Emanuel Ax on Sony and that impeccable classicist Charles Rosen (originally on CBS) remain favourites, in their different ways, each with more character. Bavouzet on Chandos, whose Haydn is so consistently fresh and imaginative, is another not to disappoint.

Finally, the Sonata No. 47 in B minor, the shortest of the crop here and a sonata that holds a Menuet at its centre as opposed to a slow movement proper. Yet Bagaría finds real pathos in the first movement; he shades the Menuet so that it functions more as a slow movement than does, say, Bavouzet on Chandos; Bavouzet’s Presto finale is decidedly more successful in its pecking staccato and overarching sense of fun.

Bagaria has recorded on a number of labels previously both as soloist and chamber musician: highlights are what looks like a stimulating programme on a disc entitled “Carnaval,” coupling works of that title by Schumann and Leonora Milà, sandwiching in between some of Liszt’s Années de pelèrinage, on El Fa Blau-Limit Records; while on Columna Records, there is a violin and piano disc of music by Messiaen, Franck and Toldrà (Columna Música 1CM 2055). But in terms of Haydn, despite the omnipresent technical polish and clear musicianship, the performances on this disc cannot come in as first choices.

Colin Clarke



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